For the Vancouver Canucks, the 2012 draft was all about size and grit, with a strong NCAA connection. To obtain that desired size (the average height of players drafted was 6’2), they chose players headed to Maine, Boston University, and Yale. A number of their junior prospects have already come of age, now developing at the pro level or overseas. Therefore, there are a small but promising handful of junior prospects developing within the Canucks' organization.
Brendan Gaunce, C, Belleville Bulls
Acquired: 1st round (26th overall) in 2012
Brendan Gaunce was the club's first pick in the 2012 entry draft, and the Canucks were ecstatic that the Belleville Bull was available at the 26th pick. The reason they were so thrilled to land Gaunce is because of the great two-way play he exhibits. Though Belleville was the third lowest-scoring team through their first eleven games, they managed a 7-3-1 start to the season, largely due to their 94-percent penalty kill efficiency. Gaunce factored in heavily as a top shutdown option, winning crucial draws and battles along the boards for loose pucks.
Gaunce was named the Bulls captain on Sept. 17, and it is those very same leadership qualities that have Canucks coaching staff making comparisons with Ryan Kesler’s ascension through their ranks. Unfortunately, he was sidelined Oct. 19 with a second- degree shoulder separation suffered in a 3-2 loss to the Sudbury Wolves. He was named to the Team OHL Subway Super Series roster for Nov. 8 in Guelph. Gaunce returned to the Bulls lineup Nov. 14, and scored a goal in their 2-1 shootout win over Guelph. Currently, through 20 games, he has eight goals, six assists, and a minus-seven rating. The Markham, Ontario native seems to have completely recovered from his shoulder separation, good news for Canucks management regarding their top junior player.
Frank Corrado, D, Sudbury Wolves
Acquired: 5th round (150th overall) in 2011
Frank Corrado is quite literally the de facto Vancouver Canucks junior prospect to keep an eye on. The Ontario Hockey League named Corrado the prospect of the week for the week ending Oct. 28th. In three games that week, he scored a goal and added six assists for seven points with a plus-six rating. He registered a career-high five assists on October 26 to help seal the nomination. Much like fellow Canucks prospect Brendan Gaunce, Frank Corrado was named to the Team OHL roster for the Subway Super Series in Sarnia Nov. 13th. The two-way defenseman scored the game’s second goal, pouncing on a rebound just after an OHL power play expired. That he was paired with one of hockey’s top defensive prospects, Dougie Hamilton (BOS) for the first pairing speaks volumes to his rapid ascension as a top-flight junior prospect.
Corrado’s accolades continue to build with a strong start to the season. During the month of October, he tied for the league-lead in scoring among defensemen with 12 points in 11 games for the Wolves. His offensive outburst did not go unnoticed, and was named the OHL’s defenseman of the month for October. After 30 regular season games, he has garnered three goals, 18 assists for 21 points with 36 penalty minutes. The fifth round pick for the Canucks received an invitation to Canada's World Junior Championships selection camp due to his blistering start. Canucks regional scout Dan Palango felt strongly enough about Corrado’s potential that he was able to convince management to invest the 2011 fifth round pick in him. So far, the 6'2, 191 pound Toronto product is doing nothing but rewarding the faith that Palango and Canucks’ management invested in him.
Evan McEneny, D, Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: Free agent signing in September, 2012
Evan McEneny knows the frustration of being sidelined due to injury. He lost all but two games of the Kitchener Rangers’ 2011-12 season to a knee injury. But McEneny certainly did not lose any of his offensive lustre while convalescing. The two-way defenseman has made a strong return for the Rangers’ big 50th season in the OHL. With three goals, nine assists for 12 points in 25 games, he certainly has not missed a beat. McEneny scored his first career Ontario Hockey League goal November 16th versus the Erie Otters. It turned out to be the eventual game-winner, and he added an assist and was named the games’ first star.
Perhaps the most compelling part of McEneny’s tale is how he became a Vancouver Canuck. In 2010 and 2011, the Canucks did not sign any of their camp invitees, though some of them signed with other NHL teams. That changed in 2012, however, as the Canucks had 24 unsigned and undrafted players at camp, the most in the NHL. Of all the undrafted prospects at the Canucks’ development camp, McEneny was the youngest. The fact that he tore his ACL just two games into the 2011-2012 did not deter the Canucks, who subsequently signed him, without having to use a draft pick. If McEneny’s season with the Rangers continues to bear fruit as it has, we can categorize it another deft free agent signing by General Manager Mike Gillis.
David Honzik, G, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Acquired: 3rd round (71st overall) in 2011
While Brendan Gaunce and Frank Corrado are thriving at the junior level, not all Canuck junior prospects are having fun this season. Goaltender David Honzik, the Canucks’ third round selection from 2011, is trying to regain his form after offseason shoulder surgery. The 19-year-old Czech Republic native underwent surgery on his right shoulder, and missed the start of the season for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. Honzik didn’t know when the injury occurred, only finding out after visiting a doctor at the conclusion of the season. It was hoped he would be back by late August, but Honzik’s injury kept him on the shelf until November. Cape Breton acquired Honzik from the Victoriaville Tigres in the offseason for a 2013 fourth round pick.
As one might expect, his return from injury was laden with some rust, as he missed the first 18 games of the season. His return featured a match-up against his former team, the Victoriaville Tigres, and was replaced by Alex Bureau after allowing six goals on 24 shots. He bounced back against the P.E.I. Rocket, winning 5-3 and picking up his first victory as a Screaming Eagle. Thus far, in six games with the Eagles, Honzik has a 1-4-0 record, with a 6.24 goals against average and a .771 save percentage.
Canucks management knows it is a tough row to hoe after undergoing surgery, and have not left Honzik twisting in the wind. They issued goaltending coach Rollie Melanson to Cape Breton to work with him at practice. Melanson has worked with Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider, as well as Carey Price. The good news for Honzik is that the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is notorious for higher octane scoring, and is traditionally tough on goaltenders and their save percentages. Cape Breton’s starting goaltender, Philippe Trudeau, had similar numbers in his first year with the Screaming Eagles. Canucks fans will be interested going forward to see how Honzik responds under Melanson’s tutelage. It should not be forgotten that Honzik has the physical components necessary to be a successful goaltender.